Photo by Mubariz Mehdizadeh / Unsplash

A lesson in how our spit balls bounce back to smack us in the face and how to use them to grow instead

I write a lot about fitness and health, most particularly as it touches those of us past fifty. So, when I find a story that interests me and will allow me to illustrate a point about the aging body and what's possible, I will use it.

In this case, it was rocker Mick Jagger. At nearly 78, he's still working the equivalent of ten miles of hard sweaty work on the stage for every concert. Barely a month after heart surgery at 75, he was back in the gym busting moves. His workout ethic is unbelievable. That was the point. Not how the man looks. Not whether or not a younger generation finds him attractive.

None of that. The point was about how, with work, focus and determination, you and I can go a very long way towards extending our life quality very late in life. Jagger was just the vehicle to make the point.

Yet, as is so often the case with trolls, some woman fired me a comment that said that a great many people find Jagger gross (I do too but it's irrelevant), and that the only reason I do what I do is because I am effectively fishing for compliments from younger men.

All right. Well, this is what she's attacking, albeit this photo wasn't in the story she was so pissed off about:

The author, 65, next to a much younger man Julia Hubbel

I've dated younger men since I was 31. The current BF is 52, a fellow gym rat. Not the guy above, but very similar. It's who is attracted me, my energy, verve, lifestyle, attitude and spirit. I don't have to hang my boobs out of my blouse to get attention, which the woman's comment implies. And that of course, I desperately need said attention.  Younger guys have always been around. No soliciting necessary. Which may be, for the person hurling the insult, the part that angers her.

When you and I fire a spitball intent on doing damage, that spitball has little to nothing to do with the other person, and everything to do with what is roiling inside us and asking for our attention.

If the comment hurts, then whatever that person is saying is already inside me, and it's simply a trigger. I get to look at that, and choose whether to believe it or learn to discard it. Feedback is a wondrous thing.

My friend Dr. Rosenna Bakari, whose writing I admire greatly, loves to state a great truth which is universal. I'm a student of Buddhism, and as such this idea really resonates with me:

We are only in relationship with ourselves.

Photo by Caroline Veronez / Unsplash

There is only one relationship. While you and I might argue but WAIT, what about.....


I am only forever in relationship with myself. So, given that, what happens when I read a tweet that I find offensive, and want to fire off something in return?

What about when someone fires me an insult, meant to do as much harm as possible?

Nothing whatsoever to do with  me, other than what said comment brings up from my own basement of horrors. I cannot be hurt by anything that isn't already inside me.

Responding gives our power away, which is what a troller wants. For every moment you and I are angry or offended, for every second we waste on composing a response, we are not living our lives. That of course is the whole point of distraction. Except in one instance, which I will explain in a sec. Stay with me here.

We are always and forever in conversation solely with ourselves, which is perhaps most painfully revealed by the insults we hurl at people online.

This exercise can be supremely useful. Here's how I use this knee-jerk response in my life:

I am not often on Twitter, for good reason. However, it's part of my world, and every so often something will sneak onto my screen that makes me wanna scream. I am as easily manipulated to outrage as anyone, being achingly human. I will fire off a response, and then wait before sending it.

Just wait.

I force myself to read, re-read and absorb that response, and ask what it says about me that I feel such an urge to make a statement.

Oh, that's not easy. Not at all. However, it is very rare that I ever hit publish. On some occasions, I will rewrite that response several times. Each time I wait. Read it again, and ultimately, erase it and forget about it.

What I don't forget is the lesson in self-reflection.

If I am willing, I will use this exercise to understand what is inside me, not my need to insult or correct or punish or hurt (or whatever is in my craw). That's hard.

And in all honesty, sometimes it is no fun at all, having to eyeball the bile that rose in me. That of course is the gift.

Zooming out and zooming in

Dr. Bakari and I were discussing self-regulation and self-restraint during a phone call this week. Apparently, someone got into an argument at a local store, went home, got a gun, returned to the store and shot the person they were arguing with. What we were discussing was the fact that apparently, the idea of a different way to handle this never occurred to the shooter. At no point did the shooter stop to consider the repercussions. All the way home and back there was only one solution: kill that person.

This remarkable sense of indignation so powerful that no other recourse was conceivable other than to kill the person with whom you had a disagreement isn't helped by helpless outrage. In  world where guns are so readily available, one would hope that self-restraint would  be even more readily available, but it's not. Outrage, indignation + firearms = disaster. Which if course is where we are right now.  If we take every single hurt and outrage personally, we lose. Including any sense of boundaries, ourselves or self-control.

This woman's heartfelt insult, aimed at me but having nothing to do with me, speaks to the heartbreaking lack of self-regulation and restraint we have as a society. However, our willingness to instead use our propensity to spit our spite at each to reflect on what that says about us, and what work we might need to do on ourselves, is a fine opportunity to grow.

Dr. Bakari says, Don't pick it up, don't put it down.  

I don't have to wear an insult. However, I can use it, especially if it hits me in the feels to ask why it hurts, what I need to heal.

And when I feel the urge to let fly on someone else.... un-spat spitballs give me fodder for growth. That way I don't waste my time, I also do no further damage for which I will inevitably feel remorse later on, and everyone wins.

Interestingly, in this particular way, the insult becomes a gift. Not what the spitballer intended, but that is precisely how you de-fang a dragon.

That's what personal power looks like in practice. And no, of course I am not good at doing this all the time. It's a skill like any other, like self-regulation. It's a muscle. The strength to choose the wiser, kinder path is, at least to my mind, a pretty good one to develop.

And like the aging-but-gross-to-some Mick Jagger, working on ourselves can lead to a long, healthy and successful life. But only if we're willing to do the work.

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